Break the Block: Turn Off Your Internal Editor
When considering how to get over writer’s block, the mind immediately turns to combating this paralyzing anxiety that many people feel when asked to write. This anxiety, in fact, is synonymous with writer’s block. To a large degree, this anxiety can be attributed to a tension between the ideas in one’s head and the difficulty of representing those ideas in the same way. Unlike speech, where one unconsciously adds emphasis, pause, syntax, diction, etc. writing involves conscious choices. “How do I want to put this?” an author may ask. Here, an internal editor takes over to craft your thoughts into written words and represent those ideas accurately to your reader.
At times though, this editor can get out of control. This editor can get in the way. One can get caught up in thinking of how a sentence should be organized, punctuated, and crafted. Here is where writer’s block rears it sinister face. It is important to limit the input of the internal editor in order to overcome the anxiety that causes writer’s block.
The first way to start to quiet this internal editor is to understand where it comes from. Most people, if not all people, have a teacher in their past that has been a stickler for the rules of grammar. As a writer, this made you take pause. Putting something perfect the first time became the highest test of a strong writer. The emphasis shifted from stating your ideas to making sure that you have commas in the correct places.
At this point you are losing your way and allowing the less important elements of writing to overshadow the more important ones. The overall goal of academic writing is to add one’s voice to the larger scholarly conversation. What you have to say is more important than how you say it. By discarding this internal editor and getting your ideas down on paper, no matter how flawed grammatically, you are favoring your own scholarly thought.
Once your thoughts are on paper, you can then return to them later and refine them, using your editorial skills to polish your work. Writing is an iterative process. Composing multiple drafts is something that every writer does. Each draft allows you to improve. Before you can do this though, you need to get your ideas out of your mind and into a more tangible form. Though this internal editor can help you when it comes to reworking your writing, first one needs to get those ideas onto paper.
So, the next time you are caught in a deep writer’s block, and the voice in your head is reminding you that you may not know how to perfectly punctuate a complex sentence with a piece of introductory information, tell that voice to “shut up.” Understand that, though important, mechanical concerns of writing are not as important as the ideas being expressed. Give yourself permission to write imperfectly. Then, endeavor to return to your work and revise it until it both expresses your ideas accurately and satisfies the grammar stickler in your mind. Quieting your internal editor can provide the freedom necessary to break writer’s block and be an effective communicator.
Do you have any strategies that help you Break the Block? If so, let us know in the comments section below!
For more strategies on how to Break the Block, check out Veronica's post from last week.
And please join us next week when we'll have the final post in our Break the Block series with a brand new strategy for you to use to overcome your writer's block issues.
Michael Dusek is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. He has taught writing at universities in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and enjoys helping students improve their writing. To Michael, the essay is both expressive and formal, and is a method for creative problem solving. In his personal life, he enjoys the outdoors, books, music, and all other types of art.
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